cover image Nobody's Daughter

Nobody's Daughter

Susan Beth Pfeffer. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $14.95 (154pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32106-8

Orphaned at an early age and grudgingly taken in by a great-aunt, 11-year-old Emily is packed off to the Austen Home for Orphaned Girls after her great-aunt dies without providing for her. The institution is a benign one, she is told, compared with the rough-and-tumble city asylums, snobbishly described as holding pens for ``ruffians, immigrants [and] the poorest of the poor.'' Once at the Austen Home, Emily steels herself to endure such degradations as having her braids cut off (``So many girls come to us with head lice....'') and the torments of a gang of schoolmates, all daughters of the New England mill town's most prominent citizens. But Emily also forges firm friendships with two fellow orphans and with the spunky, free-thinking local librarian, who even drives a newfangled automobile. A cruel sequence of events soon shatters Emily's few hopes, showing her-and the reader-the extent of the upstanding citzenry's prejudice against the disenfranchised. Though some characters are so diabolically nasty they defy belief, others, such as the Austen Home's easily cowed director, are a convincing mix of good intentions and ordinary frailty. The happy, ultimately hopeful ending does not diminish the impact of Pfeffer's compassionate exploration of what happens to those who fall between the cracks. A wrenching story. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)